When the unexpected hits, fostering a culture of innovation within your small business can yield big results.
As this year’s world events began to unfold, many industries were hit hard — especially those who supply machinery to the aerospace and oil and gas industries. Those who worked to foster a culture of innovation have been able to forge ahead and keep their working capital flowing.
Before the global pandemic even made its way to Canada, Machinery Experts Inc., a New Brunswick-based heavy equipment manufacturer, was already feeling the pinch from a protracted downturn in the oil and gas sector. Then COVID-19 hit, grounding air travel and drying up much of the company’s business from steel fabrication shops across Atlantic Canada. It also forced them to rethink how their sales team reached customers.
Like fellow business owners such as Bijan Bolouri of b.cycle, they had to quickly pivot and rethink their business model in order to survive the sudden downturn in sales. Fortunately, Chris Landry, president of Machinery Experts, knew that the key to surviving was through innovation. However, a misstep in strategy that put them in hot water meant they’d have to make another quick pivot and get back on the right track.
Here are three lessons for cultivating innovation, which Landry learned through experience during these unprecedented times.
Missed the first 5 lessons on business innovation? Click here to catch up on part one.
Lesson 1: Turn lemons into lemonade
When life hands you a bag of lemons, you can turn them into something sweet — if you have the right frame of mind.
According to a recent study, the most resilient business leaders are also the most innovative, with 22% exhibiting higher innovation than their peers. They also reported having 19% higher cognitive flexibility and 18% higher team creativity. These skills are key drivers of success and are critical for overcoming the unexpected (and expected) obstacles that will come your way.
For Landry and Machinery Experts, this has been a core strength of their business, even before the current downturn. Speaking about the repair business in a Natural Resources Magazine interview, “the bust times almost strengthen our business. Mining companies aren’t buying new assets, they are repairing current assets.” For the company, they knew that their services were needed even more when the economy turned downward, and that positioned them to prepare for future slumps.
Lesson 2: Own your mistakes
Creativity may not always translate to the market in the way it was intended — and when that happens, resilient leaders are able to bounce back quickly.
For Landry, that creativity took the form of a billboard for Machinery Experts Inc., put up near a local beach to channel the fun, summery vibes they thought would appeal to passersbys. In reality, it was poorly received by many locals and Landry soon found himself inundated with calls for it to be removed. Realizing that his company’s billboard was not hitting the mark he had intended, Landry quickly jumped into action. The billboard was removed and Landry publicly apologized.
Want to become a more resilient leader? Get these top tips.
Lesson 3: Respond to customers’ changing needs
Finding new ways to service the needs of your customers is a hallmark of a company with a culture of innovation — and that starts at the top. Resilient business owners are able to find new ways to use existing products and processes and are better at identifying areas of opportunity. In the case of Machinery Experts Inc., they were able to overcome setbacks by finding new areas to expand their business.
In the economic downturn, many steel fabrication plants were hesitant to purchase new machines, which can cost upwards of $500,000. Landry decided that a shift in the company’s focus from selling new machinery to providing long-term maintenance contracts and offering more used machinery (which costs between 30% and 50% less than new equipment) was what customers now needed.
“This is a revenue stream for us and it helps our customers because now they don’t have to deal with costly breakdowns,” the business leader explained.
Lesson 4: Enable your Sales team for the digital era
Machinery Experts’ successful pivot in response to changing customer demands means they are still operating in the black and are optimistic for the future. In recent months, the company’s sales of used equipment (which typically accounts for 20% of its revenue) doubled. They are also realizing gains from the newly launched maintenance services.
This wouldn’t have been possible without a quick pivot in the way their sales team is selling. Not only have the products and services adapted, but how they’re meeting with customers has, too.
Leveraging the power of digital communication tools, such as Zoom, allowed salespeople to conduct meetings in a new way and let them showcase the machinery for sale. It also provided unexpected savings for their operating costs, as travel expenses were trimmed completely.
“We can’t be the road warriors because you can’t cross the border, but that’s been a good thing in a way because we have the contacts,” Landry explains. Cold calling past customers has also provided a large boost to their sales slump.
Even with these changes, it’s important to keep a realistic forecast. As Landry explains, “for the next couple of months, I just want to break even.” In the event of any unexpected market fluctuations, a conservative plan can keep your business moving forward.
This wouldn’t have been possible without a culture of innovation within the company, starting with its leader. Employees will embrace new ideas and ventures when leadership creates a space where innovation is encouraged.
You never know when the unexpected will happen, so fostering a culture of innovation within your business will help you come out on the other side.
Help me innovative with better cash flow
Experiencing a sudden influx of orders can be overwhelming even during the best of times. It’s important that you take preventive measures against experiencing a shortage of working capital by evaluating your cash flow and preparing for different financial scenarios.
Even if you are incredibly diligent with maintaining your cash flow, there will still be times when you need extra working capital. Leveraging the power of alternative funding solutions can give you an advantage over the competition.
To learn more about cash flow and smart cash for tactics read our 4 part cash conversion series:
Read Part 2: 7 proven cash flow tactics every CFO needs to know
About Liquid Capital
At Liquid Capital, we understand what it takes for small, medium, and emerging mid-market businesses to succeed – because we’re business people ourselves. Our company is built on a network of locally owned and operated Principal Offices, so whenever you’re talking to Liquid Capital you’re talking directly to your funding source and a fellow business person.